I overheard a conversation the other day, a woman was struggling with her relationship with her mother whom I could tell she loved dearly and at the same time was infuriated by her. I’m sure we all have relationships like that. She was telling all this to her friend. The thing I noticed was how she kept apologising and judging herself for the words she was saying. She felt disloyal, she felt guilty, she felt ungrateful…
It was as if all these negative thoughts she was having about her mother would define her if she allowed herself to feel them. And that was causing her a lot of pain.
This Sydney Banks quote came to mind,
“If the only thing people learned was not be be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.”
The thing is, judging the feelings we are experiencing doesn’t help. These feelings are coming from our thought in the moment. Allowing the thoughts to be what they are, and by that I mean they are neutral, means that we can experience the feelings that come up without giving them any additional meaning and in so doing judging ourselves.
Having negative emotions about someone, anyone, our partner, one of our children, a sibling doesn’t make us a bad person. It just means we’ve got a lot of unhelpful thinking.
And then this thought came to my mind. How many times do we try to protect others from what we see are negative emotions? Anger, sadness, frustration, fear, jealousy, loneliness, shame, sorrow, panic… It might be ourselves or it might be those we love.
Experiencing these emotions is important as it’s all part of the human condition. This is where I struggle with positive psychology, in the Pollyanna way it came come across. You know, let’s forget about the negative stuff, cover it with a positive thought and all will be well. I’m not so sure.
If we can learn to be okay with whatever emotions we have, whatever we’re feeling and know that the feelings themselves can’t hurt us then we give them the chance to pass through us far more quickly than if we try to push them away, dwell on them or pretend they don’t exist.
Here’s a painful example. My mother has dementia, the illness has deeply affected her and those around her. Dementia has affected her personality. Conversations had with a parent or loved one with dementia take on new meaning. The person we loved has changed. The words they say are not the words they’d have said when they were well. We can feel deeply affected by what they say now. We can be transported back to hurtful things said to us in childhood.
Sometimes hearing these words takes us back to being a 10 year old and old wounds are opened, old anxieties emerge. It’s okay, it’s all part of being human. These feelings are transitory. The words aren’t who we are, they don’t define us. They are thoughts we’ve given meaning to. We can then move on to have the deepest compassion for our loved one.
And how do we apply this as parents with our children? Yes, It’s hard watching our children experiencing sadness, loss, anger, grief, but it’s important too. We aren’t doing them any favours by shielding them from negative emotions. It’s not all sunshine and roses out there and we’ll prepare them better if we allow them to see that all emotions are valid that they are simply our thoughts brought to life and by themselves can do us no harm.
Where are we denying ourselves the fullness and richness of life because we’re too scared to feel and experience all of our emotions?
If there’s something you’d like to talk through, somewhere you’re stuck then get in touch.